Accessibility links

Washington Journal: CIS Seen As Problematic Peacekeeper

  • Charles Fenyvesi

Washington, 3 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The Commonwealth of Independent States is not viewed as an ideal partner for United Nations peacekeeping operations, according to a new book published by the U.S. National Defense University.

Longtime political-military analyst William Lewis and retired Ambassador Edward Marks say in their book, "Searching for Partners: Regional Organizations and Peace Operations," that too many people perceive CIS "as a facade for Moscow's true imperial ambitions."

And they suggest that this perception, widely held by American security analysts and in some cases grounded in reality, severely limits the CIS's ability to perform a regional peacekeeping.

As a result, the United Nations has been more reluctant to allow CIS forces to wear the UN blue helmets than it has with other regional groupings. And in one case, the UN directly refused a CIS request that it be allowed to operate as a UN-sanctioned force.

In order to access the adequacy of this view and to consider whether the CIS might be able to play a more active role in the future under UN auspices, Lewis and Marks studied the 20 regional organizations around the world that the UN has considered at one time or another as potential partners. They range from NATO and the Organization of American States to less familiar groups, such as the Southern African Development Community and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.

On the basis of this study, Lewis and Marks conclude that the CIS has one serious obstacle compared to other groupings. For the moment at least, any CIS peacekeeping effort almost certainly will be overly dependent on Russian resources and thus appear to be an instrument of Russian policy rather than, as in virtually all other cases, a collective undertaking. And in a region where many of the post-Soviet states remain still "shaky," such Russian efforts are typically and understandably viewed with both skepticism and alarm.

Indeed, the authors appear to share that view. They refrain from passing judgment on the Russian involvement in Abkhazia and Tajikistan, two places where Russian troops have played a major role. But they conclude with the warning that Chechen war showed just how dangerous things may be for everyone if Russia "continues to stir up conflicts and ethnic animosities in the region beyond its borders."

But if the authors are skeptical about the role of the CIS as a peacekeeper, they argue that regional groupings must play an expanding role as the international community attempts to deal with small conflicts before they grow large.

They note that the UN undertook more than a dozen peacekeeping operations between 1988 and 1993 which involved more than 70,000 personnel and cost more than 3 billion dollars a year. By itself, Lewis and Marks say, the United Nations cannot bear this burden and thus will have to turn to regional groupings of states for assistance.

And they quote with approval Winston Churchill's observation at the time when the UN was created that only regional associations "august but subordinate" to the UN would allow the international body to succeed.